By Hillary Murphy, UNC-CH MPH:Health Behavior candidate 2016
Summer of 2015 I found myself unexpectedly working in sub-Saharan Africa on a pilot intervention involving breastfeeding practices among mothers with HIV.
Just to help you, the reader, understand how out of my element this was, here is a little background on me. My public health experience up to this point involved local food movements, health disparities in rural North Carolina, and, for a few months, community engagement and education in permaculture practices in Java, Indonesia. Despite my obvious lack of experience, I was lucky enough to be offered a practicum position, and less than a month later, I began working in Malawi, a small country in southern Africa.
Currently in Malawi, 13% of pregnant women are HIV positive. Without intervention, 5-20% of their children will become infected from HIV exposure though breastmilk, suggesting that prevention of mother-to-child transmission is of critical importance.
During my time in Malawi our goal was to tailor and pilot test an Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYFC) promotion intervention among HIV+ Malawian women in community-based village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). We tailored training materials and IYFC learning sessions on 1) breastfeeding, and 2) complementary feeding for use with Malawian trainers and VSLA volunteers, and pilot tested these materials to further refine them for use in Malawi.
Although this practicum certainly helped build my skills in program implementation and tailoring, and gave me a deep love for sub-Saharan Africa, it most importantly was a reminder to be open to unexpected experiences. There is no way to know what your true passions in life are unless you welcome opportunities that are out of your element.
Photo source: Wikimedia